Strange adventures at the plowing match

September 22, 2012

How I ended up on that hay wagon, bumping down Roseville Road again, is a little hard to say now.

All I remember is waiting in line. There was a set of wooden stairs, but no wagon, and a vague rumour about queens somewhere out there driving tractors. I didn’t know who or what to believe.

That morning, I had been sent out to the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo in Roseville, near Cambridge, by an editor desperate for a story. He would have taken a profile on the lady who hands out the tickets. Anything.

“Get me a nice colour piece. But no clichés about hayseeds, OK?” he growled.

The next thing I knew, I was plodding along with about 30 strangers in a big, empty hay wagon being hauled by an elderly man on a tractor somewhere through the pastures of North Dumfries Township. The group of us were trying to find the Queen of the Furrow plowing competition, where women in tiaras till soil in front of judges.

Volunteers had directed us to wait in line to get a ride to the competition. We were so good at it they decided to have us do it for another 45 minutes. Finally a tractor pulled up and a man shouted: “Are you here to see the queens?!” People cheered and we all piled in like we were going to Disneyland.

For a city dweller, the plowing competition is already an unusual thing. When you first arrive, you’re greeted by steam engines running on corn cobs that toot their horns constantly, but never go anywhere. A few metres away, there’s a crowd of men getting teary-eyed over a machine making cedar shingles, as if a baby was being born. Over there, kids are lining up to take slower-than-slow rides on an off-road vehicle — kind of like a really underwhelming roller coaster through the mud.

And here I was, riding in the back of some hay wagon, trying to remember how I got there in the first place. After a 20-minute ride to the plowing site, the passengers’ cheers subsided. We had been taken to the wrong field.

Not to worry, our driver insisted. We turned around and bumped our way through the tire ruts left behind by Tuesday’s biblical-strength downpours.

The driver was a man who looked like he was born the same year the diesel engine was born. And if he ever got his John Deere going faster than 10 km/h, I didn’t see it. We crawled along those rural roads slower than molasses, getting passed by old ladies in wheelchairs.

Can’t this man see I’m in a hurry? I thought. Half an hour later, we arrived at the other field. It was also empty. Passengers wanted to mutiny, but we decided to try one more field. This one was another 30-minute drive away, back where we came from.

And so we headed back down Roseville Road, looking like a bunch of surly migrant farm workers being shuttled from one work site to another. Of course, the third field we checked was empty.

Finally, people wanted off the wagon.

“We want to go to gate 3!” the passengers cried.

“No problem,” the driver said, and got back inside his tractor.

After driving for another minute or so, he stopped and shouted back:

“Which way is gate 3?”

About 10 minutes later, as we piled out of the wagon, I imagined how the conversation might go with my editor back at the newspaper.

“I missed most of the queen of the furrow plowing competition. But, you see, it wasn’t my fault.”

“What happened?”

“I got stuck on a hay wagon.”

A likely story.

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